The false propaganda about the settlements’ importance to Israeli security went up in flames Friday, once and for all, in the West Bank village of Duma. Young Israel Defense Forces soldiers were forced to spend this weekend in the field instead of their homes because of murderers who burned an infant to death, sparking the flames of vengeance – for the blood of a little child, as Bialik wrote – and incinerating any seedling of actual civilian or economic coexistence. If the army is often seen as a national treasure, protecting its owners for better or worse, then the settlers – from Beit El, Sa-Nur and Duma – are a national burden. That is, if they can still be said to be from the same nation.
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Jewish murderers and rioters trickle through the rough seams that link the IDF to the Shin Bet security service, and the police to the Civil Administration. The excuse is the limited abilities of the Shin Bet’s Jewish division. If there is more than one incident, more than one gang, then the Shin Bet is helpless. And this is without mentioning the betrayal of former regional commanders who, according to a senior officer, are working to help the settlers understand the workings of their former colleagues.
The IDF’s top brass is blessed with an unprecedented cache of hands-on field experience, both with Palestinians and settlers. Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, his deputy, Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, and head of the Operations Directorate, Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon – the army’s top three officers – were all in charge of the West Bank area, with the latter serving as GOC Central Command. They are all intelligent and well versed in the area’s insane reality, which pits the desire for a normal life against the whims of politicians capitulating to the desires of 5 percent of Israelis – themselves driven by the desires of 5 percent of their own community. The only former West Bank commander to fall hopelessly in love with the settlers is Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who learned this week that their hunger knows no limit.
The police, in self-conscious irony, set up their own faltering unit to investigate nationalist crimes, whose acronym in Hebrew accurately reads “Mess up” (fashla). Only in extremely rare cases do they dare talk about terror – a task usually designated for the IDF and Shin Bet (the exception to the rule is an elite police unit and undercover units). They rarely reveal or thwart Israeli terror attacks against Palestinians.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan has spent the past two months acquainting himself with the police, and has yet to appoint a new police chief to replace Yohanan Danino. After being an outstanding, diligent student, Erdan will likely have to repeat a grade after failing an exam. He would certainly contest this description. He credits himself with uncovering the gang that set Christian churches on fire; the efficiency with which the police carried out the demolition in Beit El last week; and the wise police deployment in Jerusalem on Tisha B’Av, when troubled flared on the Temple Mount.
Erdan believes the events of recent weeks grant him an opportunity to size up the performances of interim Police Commissioner Bentzi Sau and other district commanders. By adopting this approach, commanders in relatively quiet districts – like Yoram Halevy in the south – have less chance of making a good impression on the minister, unlike lower-ranking officers, like Moshe Edri in Jerusalem (although it’s possible the stabbing attack by Yishai Schlissel at the capital’s Gay Pride Parade last Thursday could put the brakes on Adery’s career).
Despite the police failures at Sa-Nur, which settlers temporarily reoccupied last week, the IDF appreciates the force’s professionalism in certain fields – professionalism that comes at a price, but which is becoming more and more worthwhile. Eisenkot’s planned budget cuts could see the IDF transfer responsibility for the Home Front Command from the IDF to the Public Security Ministry, a move that would save the IDF about 1,000 salaries for career officers and NCOs (their salaries would still come from government funds, just not the defense budget). If the Border Police were to create another brigade to serve permanently in the West Bank, it would save the IDF from having to station career soldiers there.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the minister in charge of the Shin Bet, which makes him responsible for the daily horrors that occur here, but not solely responsible. Schlissel’s alleged crimes are no less horrific, and they reflect the failure of Israel’s systems of punishment and deterrence. Schlissel stabbed and wounded three people at the same parade in 2005; he was convicted for 10 years, served his time and was released. He remained extremist and repeated his crime, carrying out his promises.
Supreme Court justices share the blame for this crime, since if they hadn’t reduced his sentence by two years, he wouldn’t have been free to carry out his latest crime. The Supreme Court was more forgiving than the district court, which originally gave Schlissel 12 years. The Supreme Court’s explanation for reducing the sentence was Schlissel’s “normativity” up until the 2005 stabbing. After Baruch Goldstein and Yigal Amir, who were also incredibly “normative” until they committed their crimes, it’s incredible that the justices’ lenience was proven mistaken by the very same stabber.
The officers in the field were not surprised by recent events in the West Bank. They believed that international intervention in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be felt on the ground. The murders – and the Palestinians, in their expected reaction – are fanning the flames even more. And Netanyahu, who leads the government that is tearing Israeli society to shreds, won’t need to look too far in order to recite his favorite line – because Iran is already here.